Saturday, August 20, 2011

What if Wyoming candidates ran on issues and qualifications instead of Party labels?

As much as we all decry the corrosive role of partisanship in government, it is not so much the people in elected office as it is the system of electing them that produces the partisanship. As much as Wyoming people are fond of claiming they “don’t vote for the party but for the best candidate,” state law requires all candidates for state and county offices run under a partisan label. While a candidate may run as an independent, the “system” makes it difficult and historically very few candidates choosing that label have been elected.
            I recall an interview with US Representative Cynthia Lummis, then in her freshman term. She contrasted the intense partisanship of Washington, DC with how little partisanship matters in Wyoming. Perhaps partisanship matters less in Wyoming because it is, in reality, a one-party state. With no Democrats among the states five top elected officials, none in the Congressional delegation since 1978 and only 14 Democrats among 90 state legislators, debates themselves don’t tend to be partisan, but Wyoming elections are!
The requirement that candidates claim a partisan label in order to get on the ballot creates a form of partisanship as destructive to open government than the kind we see in Washington. In a small rural state where people have an opportunity to meet candidates and measure them, the Party label attached to each candidate constrains the process. Otherwise good candidates with much to offer are denied an opportunity to serve because their label isn’t the right partisan label. In many cases, candidates with fewer qualifications are elected because of the partisan appeal of their label. This type of partisanship is why so many seats in the legislature and contests for other offices go unopposed. If you are a Democrat in certain counties or a Republican in a certain few districts, your label alone puts you at a serious disadvantage rendering your qualifications irrelevant. That, my friends, is the worst kind of partisanship.
            Arizona is considering reducing the impact of partisanship by opening their closed primaries. Some see allowing people to vote in either Party’s primary as a way if minimizing partisanship. I disagree. It seems to me that only makes for mischief allowing partsans to influence the other Party’s choices.
Why not take political parties out of the equation altogether? What if candidates for state and local office ran without a Party identification? Anyone who runs for office would be listed on the ballot. Instead of a Party label serving as shorthand for projecting what that candidate may stand for, each candidate would have an opportunity and an obligation to make his or her own appeal to the voters. They’d actually have to campaign on their records and on the issues. The purpose of the primary election would be to narrow the number of candidates for each office to two. Those two would vie for election in November after a campaign based on issues and not Party labels.
Partisanship would play no role. Voters could judge candidates accordingly, as individuals and not simply as standard bearers for one political party or another. Labels are a poor way for a democracy to choose its representatives. Labels are deceiving even as they say little about whether a candidate is actually qualified. But labels alone win too many Wyoming elections. Wyoming could set a higher standard by eliminating partisan labels altogether and creating an electoral system where it is ideas and issues that matter the most.


  1. If you really want government to be representative of the people, we would do better to NOT have elections and have a lottery system. Jerry Spence wrote a book about the govt a few years ago and this was among the ideas (can't claim it as my own). You draw the names out of a pool (somewhat like jury duty) and the candidates have set terms. You are done with big money buying the election, you can only serve that term--whatever it is. People could vote their conscience.

    Of course you would get a few loose cannons (but we have them now) but it would eliminate the time wasted campaigning, much of the posturing and mud slinging.

    Put the lottery vs election idea in place and a flat tax with no loopholes for the ultra-rich and I think you are part way there.

    Yes, I know it's not very realistic but I am so sick of years wasted with these idiots who get in there to make power grabs (Newt Gingrich and his Contract for American crowd and, now, the extremest Tea Party bunch) who cast votes to send a message instead of running the country and don't care who they destroy as long as it is not the people who have bought them and own their souls.

  2. I like that idea with a tweak. I would suggest we choose legislators/congresspersons like we do juries...pick 30 names out of a hat, then allow selected persons question them about their positions and qualifications until it narrowed down to the best more sound bites, no commercials, but candidates who have to answer questions and are actually judged by their responses!

    Thanks for your comments!